Judge Michael Rankins insists that you address him as "R."
A dangerously deceptive love triangle even money can't fix.
G is one of at least three recent films (following O, a prep-school Othello, and the upcoming M, a version of Macbeth set in modern-day Australia) to update a classic work of literature into a contemporary tale with a monogrammatic title. G resurrects The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald's epic novel of life among the upper crust, and gives it hip-hop flavor.
Like you, when I think hip-hop, I immediately think F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Facts of the Case
Today, the mysterious impresario known as Summer G (Richard T. Jones, Amy Brenneman's courtroom officer on Judging Amy) commands a multimillion-dollar recording empire from his mansion in the Hamptons, where he regularly throws lavish soirees for the hip-hop artists (and their legions of hangers-on) in his employ.
Ten years ago, however, Summer G was just plain Greg, a starving musician and college student enamored with the beautiful Sky (Chenoa Maxwell, best known as the title character in the romantic comedy Hav Plenty). Then, along came filthy-rich Chip Hightower (Blair Underwood, forever the young hotshot attorney from L.A. Law), who lured Sky away from the future Mr. G with his flashy cars, armloads of cash and jewelry, and promises of the lush life on the shores of Long Island.
When Sky's cousin journalist Tracy (Andre Royo, excellent as the confidential informant on HBO's crime drama The Wire) lands the plum assignment of interviewing Summer G—coincidentally, now Chip and Sky's neighbor—for a music magazine, old passions and rivalries resurface. Summer wants Sky back. Chip isn't about to let his trophy wife slip through his clutches. Sky is torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool. Loving both of them is breaking all the rules. (Hmm…there's a song in there somewhere.)
If you surmise that this tortured triangle won't end happily, you're a wise and perceptive individual. That, or you read The Great Gatsby in sophomore English.
Given that it's been nearly three decades since I read The Great Gatsby in high school (or nodded off during the 1974 film starring Robert Redford in the title role), I won't pretend that I can break down every parallel and digression between Fitzgerald's seminal work and director Christopher Scott Cherot's cinematic knockoff. If you're familiar with the novel, you've already figured out from the foregoing synopsis that Summer G is the Gatsby avatar, Sky is Daisy Buchanan, Chip is Daisy's husband Tom, and Tracy is Nick Carroway, the book's narrator.
Suffice it to say that aside from the setting, the similarities pretty well end there. Cherot's paint-by-numbers screenplay, cowritten with Charles E. Drew Jr., borrows only the skeleton of Gatsby, overlaying it with a superfluity of pointless characters and subplots sufficient to fill Summer G's swimming pool. (In one confusing instance, there's even a character named Daizy [sic], but she's not the character who replaces the Daisy in Fitzgerald's book.)
All of these secondary goings-on serve only to disengage the viewer from the central narrative, which is already too fragile to defend itself from competition. This already wobbly story gets completely submarined in the end by a cheap, manipulative conclusion that has nothing to do with the source material. Even if the audience had been on board (and awake) until the last five minutes, they're left shaking their heads by the time the credits scroll.
The acting doesn't help much. Andre Royo does solid work in his pivotal role as the audience's point of reference, even though he's off-screen far too often for us to truly identify with him. The core of the cast ranges from stiff (in the title role, Richard T. Jones presents all the emotional range of a Formica countertop) to hammy (Blair Underwood gnaws every piece of scenery he can get his teeth into) to just plain awful (Cherot has cast Chenoa Maxwell as the female lead in a film—Hav Plenty—once previously, but he still hasn't figured out that she can't act and worse, looks chronically bored). For a story about people being driven by passion, there's precious little spark or chemistry between the players. I've seen more exciting interaction at a Scrabble tournament.
On a positive note, G is an attractive film to view, thanks to the tastefully understated camera work of cinematographer Horacio Marquínez (Dummy). And kudos to the costume department, which discovered more stylish ways to dress good-looking, dark-complected folks in predominantly white attire than I would have imagined possible, and to the titles designer, who came up with a unique and memorable means of introducing the primary actors. All the pretty people and pictures can't be seen through the backs of one's eyelids, however, and that's how most of the audience will be facing the movie by the time it's over.
Sony gives G a sharp digital rendering and not much else in this barebones offering. The transfer itself is gorgeous—clear, strikingly bright without glare, and defect-free. The soundtrack presents with nice balance and depth, even though there isn't much action. The only extras are a sextet of previews for movies you've never heard of and are unlikely ever to see.
One slight technical complaint: Twelve chapter stops are too few for a feature-length film. When I wanted to go back and check out a handful of key scenes a second time, I had to do an inordinate amount of fishing.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The question is asked repeatedly by the characters in G: Does hip-hop have heart? The real question should be: Does G have hip-hop? The answer? Not so much. Who would have thought to hire Bill Conti, the composer-conductor best known for his scores for the Rocky films and his bandleading duties at the annual Academy Awards ceremonies, to supply the background music for a movie about hip-hop musicians? Or to hire pop-folkies Seals and Crofts, for heaven's sake, to record the theme song? I know the movie's set in the Hamptons, but did the music have to be this vanilla?
G represents a golden opportunity, sadly squandered. The notion of a modernized Gatsby with an African American cast is intriguing. It's also refreshing to see a film set within the black music industry that doesn't depict all of the participants as profanity-spewing, doped-up thugs, but as well-mannered, successful, intelligent people who mostly speak in complete sentences. Unfortunately, the weak, cluttered screenplay and lackluster acting disappoint. What could have been a splendid new take on a classic tale ends up being just another soap opera in haute couture.
G is for guilty. It's also for grave, where F. Scott Fitzgerald is likely spinning even now. Court is in recess.
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